Kelowna Capital News
Beware pesticide industry spin on testing
To the editor:
Re.: Response by Bob Everatt: Claims About Pesticides Not Backed Up,
Feb 25 Capital News, to Canadian Cancer Society’s and Ms. Kiely’s
letter: Best to Keep Away from Pesticides, Feb. 8 Capital News.
A retired intelligence analyst, I am currently Canadian honorary
observer on the Pesticide Working Group, based in Washington, D.C.
First of all, the word “pesticides” does not mean “insecticides,”
referring as it does to all kinds of “cides”, i.e. describes an entire
group of chemicals.
As well, I beg to differ that the chemicals “have been developed under
close scrutiny.” Whose scrutiny? Industry? Health Canada’s?
Health Canada toxicologists merely examine rat data provided by the
industry. There is only one epidemiologist on staff at Health Canada’s
Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) and no mechanism to search
and review epidemiological (human) studies systematically.
No bibliographies of independent data are compiled. If a single report
examined does not overturn the PMRA’s decision, it is put in
“disregard” file. Yet information on human neurotoxicity, vital
developmental toxicity, endocrine (hormone) disruption and routine
dioxin contamination is routinely withheld by the industry from the
This is a very serious omission, bearing in mind that permanent health
damage can affect future generations. Hence our current epidemic of
autism, asthma and ADHD (attention deficit, hyperactivity disorder),
among other serious health problems.
Only the so-called “active” portion of ready-to-use pesticides is
industry tested. The “inert” portion of herbicides, for example, that
may constitute as much as 99 per cent of the ready-to-use product, is
untested yet known to be toxic. Herbicides, which are known to
interact, are applied in untested combination, without an attempt to
determine their cumulative effect.
Both education alone and urban integrated pest management (IPM) have
proven completely ineffective. Urban use of IPM is ridiculed “as
increased pesticide marketing.”
We should also keep in mind that there is a difference in the
absorption of residues in food and exposure to lawn chemicals. In the
first case, the residues go directly to the liver, which is the
cleansing organ and in the second case they may be inhaled, thus going
directly to the brain. In light of the above, it is obvious which type
of pesticide absorption—in food or via inhalation—is causing the
greatest harm, especially to young children.
As an owner of an attractive weedless lawn, maintained entirely
without the use of pesticides, I am well aware that we already do have
effective means of organic lawn maintenance and more new, safer
products are being developed.
K. Jean Cottam, PhD,
Saturday, February 28, 2009
Pawns with Lawns
By Mickey Z.
The single most irrigated crop in the United States is…(drum roll
please) lawn. Yep, 40 million acres of lawn exist across the Land of
Denial and Americans collectively spend about $40 billion on seed,
sod, and chemicals each year. And then there’s all that water. If you
include golf courses, lawns in America cover an area roughly the size
of New York State and require 238 gallons of (usually drinking-
quality) water per person, per day. According to the EPA, nearly a
third of all residential water use in the US goes toward what is
euphemistically known as “landscaping.”
We have become a nation of pawns with lawns. Food comes from the drive-
thru, entertainment is televised, the concept of play exists on hand-
held computers, democracy is a reality show every four years, and that
tiny parcel of land we allegedly share with some bailed out bank is
inevitably set aside to be a lawn.
As described by Ted Steinberg, author of American Green: The Obsessive
Quest for the Perfect Lawn, when it comes to lawns, social and
ecological factors often work in coordination. “Perfection became a
commodity of post-World War II prefabricated housing such as
Levittown, NY, in the late 1940s,” writes Steinberg. “Mowing became a
priority of the bylaws of such communities.”
Lawn mowers produce several types of pollutants, including ozone
precursors, carbon dioxide, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
(classified as probable carcinogens by the CDC). In fact, operating a
typical gasoline mower produces as much polycyclic aromatic
hydrocarbons as driving a car roughly 95 miles. Since some folks are
legally required to maintain a lawn (more about that shortly), here’s
a suggestion or two: human-powered mowers or try using your bicycle.
Besides the air and noise pollution of mechanized mowers, there’s
another form of toxicity directly related to America’s lawn addiction.
“Lawns use ten times as many chemicals per acre as industrial
farmland,” writes Heather Coburn Flores, author of Food Not Lawns: How
to Turn Your Yard into a Garden And Your Neighborhood into a
Community. “These pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides run off into
our groundwater and evaporate into our air, causing widespread
pollution and global warming, and greatly increasing our risk of
cancer, heart disease, and birth defects.”
“If the Bill of Rights contains no guarantee that a citizen shall be
secure against lethal poisons distributed either by private
individuals or by public officials,” wrote Rachel Carson almost five
decades ago, “it is surely because our forefathers…could conceive of
no such problem.”
We now produce pesticides at a rate more than 13,000 times faster than
we did when Carson wrote Silent Spring in 1962. The EPA considers 30%
of all insecticides, 60% of all herbicides, and 90% of all fungicides
to be carcinogenic, yet Americans spend about $7 billion on 21,000
different pesticide products each year. “Prior to World War II, annual
worldwide use of pesticides ran right around zero,” says author
Derrick Jensen. “By now it’s 500 billion tons, increasing every year.”
As a result, about 860 Americans suffer from pesticide poisoning every
single day; that’s almost 315,000 cases per year.
As mentioned above, maintaining a noxious and unproductive lawn isn’t
just a simple case of one-size-fits-all conformity in the face all
logic and evidence; it’s often the law.
In October 2008, for example, Joseph Prudente of Beacon Woods,
Florida, was sentenced to jail for failing to sod his lawn as required
by the local homeowner covenants. Before you label Mr. Prudente a
modern day insurrectionist, take note that the reason he failed to
live up to his suburban obligation was predictable: he couldn’t afford
to replace his sprinklers when they broke. “It’s a sad situation,”
said Bob Ryan, Beacon Woods Homeowners Association board president.
“But in the end, I have to say he brought it upon himself.”
I’m guessing Mr. Ryan has never heard of Food Not Lawns.
Imagine, as the folks at Food Not Lawns do, each house not with a lawn
but instead with a small organic “Victory” garden from which the
family is fed. Imagine those without a lawn joining their local
community garden to re-connect and grow their own. Or perhaps you’d
like to imagine them engaging in some green graffiti and/or seed
(For the uninitiated, seed bombs are “compressed balls of soil and
compost that have been impregnated with wildflower seeds. Jettisoned
onto barren, abandoned, or otherwise inhospitable land, including
construction sites and abandoned lots.” Liz Christy—who started the
“Green Guerillas” in 1973—coined the alternative term, seed grenades.
Smaller versions are commonly called seed balls. No matter what you
call them, seed bombs are part of the ever-increasing international
trend of guerilla gardening and you can find kindred spirits here.)
“The vast expanse of forever-green American lawn is not only the most
resource intensive agricultural crop in the world,” writes Tobias
Policha in Green Anarchy, “but also an obscene icon to our arrogant
privilege and total alienation from a life in harmony with nature.”
The sterile lawn—complete with its requisite sprinkler, chemical
cocktail, bug zapper, and “keep off the grass” sign—is an ideal symbol
for America’s cookie cutter culture. Lawns, writes Ted Steinberg, are
“an instrument of planned homogeneity.” He asks: “What better way to
conform than to make your front yard look precisely like Mr. Smith’s
To which we must reply: Fuck homogeneity and fuck conformity.
Why don’t more people step away from the coast-to-coast mall
mentality? Once reason is the looming Green Scare, a term which refers
to “the federal government’s expanding prosecution efforts against
animal liberation and ecological activists, drawing parallels to the
“Red Scares” of the 1910’s and 1950s.”
The answer to this tactic, as always, is more solidarity. More of us
need to embrace ideas like dumpster diving, off the grid living,
wwoofing, billboard liberation, monkey wrenching, radical love,
bartering, freeganism, veganism, transition towns, and other forms of
the DIY ethic. We need organic vegetable gardens, not lawns. We need
two wheels, not four. We need food not bombs. We need immediate
courageous collective direct action, not “hope and change.” We need
comrades, not pawns with lawns. And we need it all now.
Mickey Z. has lived in apartments his entire life but can also be
found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.
Join Derrick Jensen and Mickey Z. on April 25 for “Earth 911: A Wake-
up Call for Obama Nation.” They’ll dissect the conventional wisdom
that dominates and suffocates public debate in Washington. Along with
highlighting what’s wrong with our current state of affairs, they’ll
offer ideas for how we can go about fixing it. You won’t want to miss
this opportunity to see Derrick and Mickey together in the Rosslyn
neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia, only one Metro stop from
Sunday, March 01, 2009
List of pesticide-free towns growing
Health concerns fuel the trend, but not everyone is convinced
BY JEANETTE RUNDQUIST
When spring arrives, Pleasant Valley Park in Bernards Township will be
a green suburban oasis, with a playground and walking trails; baseball
fields and picnic pavilion; acres of lawns and a fish-stocked pond.
This year, township officials said, the goal is to keep the park and
others in Bernards green without chemical pesticides or fertilizers.
Bernards Township last week joined a growing list of New Jersey towns
to announce it is going "pesticide-free," by eliminating the use of
chemical pesticides in parks and using them minimally on other
Part of a statewide effort spearheaded by the New Jersey Environmental
Federation, the change is intended to reduce pesticides' impact on the
environment and the public.
"We feel that from a health standpoint, it would be better off for our
residents," said Bernards Mayor Carolyn Kelly. The township in
December adopted an "integrated pest management" policy that calls for
things like manual weeding; aerating soil; and letting grass grow
taller as a way to maintain grounds.
The change was formally announced last month at Pleasant Valley Park,
where a "pesticide-free zone" sign was installed.
"We should take the lead by showing private homeowners that a town can
do away with chemicals on the lawn and still have beautiful parks and
recreation areas," Kelly said.
The New Jersey Environmental Federation several years ago began
encouraging local governments to stop the use of chemical pesticides,
which include herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and rodenticides.
Some 26 towns from Clifton to Raritan Township have done so, along
with two counties and one school district, according to Jane Nogaki,
pesticide program coordinator for the federation.
The idea is to "reduce toxic exposure to public health and our
waterways," said Nogaki, who said that about 4 million pounds of
pesticides are applied each year in New Jersey, about half of that for
lawn care by homeowners, commercial applicators and others. The
chemicals break down and cause increased risk of cancer, asthma,
learning disabilities and other ailments, especially in children, she
Pesticide-free park maintenance may mean added costs. In Raritan
Township, where Mine Brook Park and Morales Nature Park are to be
maintained without pesticides, it will mean more weed-whacking.
"What you used to be able to spray, you could get away for two months.
Now you have to weed-whack on at least a two-week basis to make things
look presentable," said public works director Dirk Struening. "It's
Bernards budgeted an extra $10,000 this year for the change. But
public works director Pat Monaco said after they begin instituting
more natural maintenance, costs should come down. "I think we can make
it work," he said.
Not everyone believes pesticide-free zones are a good step. Karen
Reardon is spokeswoman for RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound
Environment), which represents manufacturers, formulators and
distributors of non-agricultural pesticides and fertilizers. She said
products available for use by towns are "tested and safe for use," and
if used in a targeted way are "perfectly safe."
She raised the possibility of danger from not using pesticides -- the
risk of bee stings to children, for example.
At Rutgers University's School of Environmental and Biological
Sciences, pest management specialist George Hamilton said eliminating
pesticides could be a problem. He offered the example of gypsy moths,
that can defoliate and kill trees.
"If we can get away without using the pesticides, fine, but we do need
to recognize there are circumstances where we need to use them, and
I'd hate to see that curtailed," he said.
Different places have different policies. Burlington County calls for
minimal use of pesticides, and pesticide-free zones within its county
parks. Bernards is going pesticide-free in all of its parks, plus
switching from synthetic to organic fertilizers. Raritan Township is
eliminating pesticides in some parks but not in Lenape Park, where
there are heavily used athletic fields.
Raritan Township Deputy Mayor John King said part of the change is
getting used to the grass being a little longer.
"Before if there was a leaf on the street, we probably picked it up.
Now we'll probably let the rural aspect come back," he said.
Even in towns with the broadest policies, there are exceptions.
Bernards' Monaco said if beehives are found dangerously close to a
playground, for example, workers will try to get rid of them without
using chemicals. But if necessary they'll mark off the area and spray
Much concern about pesticide use concerns children.
Joe Speeney, of Bernards Township, began worrying about pesticides
after his now 2-year-old son, Dan, was born. Speeney said he and his
wife asked their homeowners association to stop spraying pesticides,
but got nowhere.
Speeney then went to township officials to ask for a pesticide-free
policy there. He and his family were present when the change was
"I feel fantastic," said Speeney, who is now on the Bernards
environmental commission. "It's a great day for kids in this town."
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